I recently finished the Fablehaven series of novels authored by Brandon Mull. If you start with the first book, you might wonder why I’ve included a series that focuses on fairies in a blog that specializes in Angels and Demons. Trust me, the Demons play an ever more important role as you go on.
But what’s truly impressive is just how many McGuffins Mull manages to juggle in this series. And not only that, but each and every one of them is a power item. The first book only has one, the second two, and by the time you reach the last book there are something like half a dozen.
So how does Mull introduce so many powerful magical items into active use without the consequences tearing his fictitious world apart.
Well… um… they kind of do – but I’ll come back to that.
One way Mull keeps his protagonists from overpowering their foes is to keep some of the fantastic powers of his McGuffins out of their hands.
- They are lost, or stolen
- They are overly complex
- They drive anyone who uses them insane
- They get turned over to authority figures who can better keep them safe
Each of these techniques are a way to keep the protagonists (or antagonists) from becoming super powerful until it is plot relevant for them to become so. If you plan to make a super powerful relic (or nexus of power, or what have you) the objective of one of your games – consider using one of these strategies (or something similar) to keep the item from becoming too unbalancing.
So, about tearing the world apart…
In addition to their individual uses, the bulk of the McGuffins are actually part of a MegaGuffin. Gather them all and you can unlock hell. In fact, that’s precisely what someone’s trying to do.
This means the McGuffins basically stay in play. The main characters can only hold on to them so long as they are strong enough and clever enough to hold their opponents at bay (and all sides eventually lose one or more at some point).
And if the protagonists don’t keep going after the lost relics, eventually someone who has gathered them and learned how they work can show up and take the ones that the protagonists do have. Either way the story keeps going while still respecting the actions of the characters within it. This is great trick for GMs to learn.
And The Stories
Fablehaven is pretty standard young adult fare. The protagonists find themselves thrust into a world almost, but not quite like our own. In their adventures they are forced to confront their choices and deal with the consequences, but their day-to-day lives are mostly insulated from the strangeness.
Each story has a slightly different feel from the last with a clear ramp upwards towards some grand conflict – but what really sells the series for me is the Mull actually delivers on that conflict, and sooner than I thought he would.
If you are looking for an epic story of light vs. dark with faeries and demons and powers beyond our comprehension… I’d probably recommend The Dark is Rising sequence. But if you’ve already read that or if want something with more of a Harry Potter feel to it, definitely check out Fablehaven.